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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Brothers United (center) and State Lafo await Christmas present from St.Nick at the Salt Lake Rescue Mission on 400 South and 400 West in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec., 23, 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY — At a building built for animals at the Utah State Fair, thousands of people file in at an assigned time to pick up toys, clothes and other basics for the holidays.

This is the Salvation Army's 'Angel Tree' distribution center, and more than 2,400 families have come through here in the last few days.

"We actually had to turn away 2,000 other families who didn't qualify when we were taking applications for the Angel Tree last fall," said Major Richard Greene. "It just shows how hard times are right now."

April Hill and Francisco Rodriguez picked up toys and a Spider Man coat for her son. It's a simple Christmas for this homeless couple. But without this program they'd be out of luck completely.

"It would be hard," Hill said. "My son wouldn't get a lot for Christmas."

She laughs nervously at the harsh reality her family is facing.

"Everywhere you go, you see a lot of people in the same situation right now," Rodriguez said.

Many non-profit charitable organizations said they're keeping up with demand this holiday season, but barely.

"All of our social service agencies are stretching," said Major Greene. "We've had to cut our budgets, we've had to cut our staff, we've had to cut what we're able to do and provide."

At The Road Home homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City, they're set up to take advantage of people's giving mood right now. A truck is parked in front of the shelter, so people can drive up and drop off donations.

Taylorsville resident Shiena Fobert brought two of her sons with her to donate clothes the boys have outgrown. Fobert said she talked to them about how important it is to share with those less fortunate.

"We've been talking about children who don't have as much as we have." Fobert said. "And they want to help out those who don't have as much."

And The Road Home's Executive director said there are a lot of people like that right now.

"We have more people asking for services now than at any other time in our history," Matt Minkevitch said.

The problem is that while people are in the Christmas spirit right now, the need actually goes up after the holiday, just as donations plummet.

"Like other non-profits, this is the time when we either get it or we won't, to continue to the work of helping people," Minkevitch said.

Minkevitch said the shelter is getting lots of donations of toys and clothes, but is short on basics like towels, socks and cold weather coats.

Both Major Greene and Minkevitch said they're working overtime to make sure they meet the demands of the Christmas season.

But the New Year is just a week away, and the reality facing those thousands of families isn't changing.

e-mail: rpiatt@desnews.com